3D Great Rock Bible
Runrig iTunes Tracks Runrig Official Website

Runrig

An entity unto themselves, by way of becoming the first Gaelic-speaking Celtic-rock act to make it huge, Scots RUNRIG have probably surpassed all expectations throughout their 40+ years in the music business. Although indebted to the likes of The CORRIES, DOUGIE MacLEAN and pathfinders BIG COUNTRY, plus hundreds of Caledonian acts that have tried in vain to capture hearts south of the border, RUNRIG would’ve loved to have danced all the way to America.
Formed as The Run-Rig Dance Band, in North Uist and the neighbouring isle of Skye in the Outer Hebrides (in spring 1973), by songwriting brothers Rory (bass) and Calum Macdonald (percussion/drums), and Blair Douglas (keyboards), the young men were content to perform in front of relatively nominal audiences. Due to their religious beliefs they’ve never played live on a Sunday. Following these local gigs on the islands, the band found encouraging support from the Gaelic media; travelling to mainland Scotland and playing a gig at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. School friend Donnie Munro duly joined as lead vocalist, while Blair was replaced by accordionist Robert Macdonald (no relation). This quartet remained steady throughout RUN RIG’s debut album, PLAY GAELIC (1978) {*5}, a cassette released on the independent Neptune imprint (and subsequently re-issued in the early 80s on Lismor Records). As the title suggested, this was a steadfastly indigenous release with no English language tracks, although it was well received in Celtic-folk circles, which, in turn, encouraged the group to set up their own label, Ridge Records.
Amid further line-up changes (Inverness-born Malcolm Jones on guitar, bagpipes and mandolin superseded a solo-bound Blair – who still guested), RUN RIG (without Robert also) delivered a follow-up LP, THE HIGHLAND CONNECTION (1979) {*6}. The transitional record featured a mix of Gaelic and English language tracks, including `Loch Lomond’, a sourced staple that would become a firm favourite with their growing fanbase.
Adding St. Andrews-born fifth member Iain Bayne on drums (ex-NEW CELESTE), it was to be a couple of years before the release of RECOVERY (1981) {*7}; RUNRIG – note: now one word! – had toured heavily, embellishing their sound with the relative exotica of keyboards, played by… gasp!… an Englishman, Richard Cherns (who briefly joined full-time). As a result, the album proffered a more accessible brand of Celtic-rock (described as a cross between BIG COUNTRY, SILLY WIZARD and HORSLIPS), a sound that crystallised on interim singles, `Loch Lomond’, `Dance Called America’ and `Skye’.
1985’s HEARTLAND {*7} showcased both `Dance…’ (dealing with the tragedy of the Highland clearances) and the latter home-soil signature tune. With a growing number of admirers in both America and Europe, it seemed that the only place which failed to understand the group was, funnily enough, England. Nevertheless, the band – with Dunfermline-born Peter Wishart superseding Cherns – signed to London-based Chrysalis, in 1988, following the moderately successful THE CUTTER & THE CLAN (1987) {*8}. This was an awesome collection which numbered such enduring RUNRIG favourites as `Rocket To The Moon’, `The Cutter’, `Protect And Survive’ (from which the lines “once in a lifetime” come), and belated Top 20 hit (in 1995!), `Ab Ubhal As Airde (The Highest Apple)’.
Their major label debut, if one doesn’t count a rush-released/re-issued “Cutter/Clan” set, the live ONCE IN A LIFETIME (1988) {*7} dented the lower regions of the British charts. This marked the beginning of RUNRIG’s most commercially successful period, the band almost reaching the Top 10 with 1989’s SEARCHLIGHT {*7}. Although attendant 45s, `News From Heaven’ and `Every River’ didn’t sell enough copies nationwide, compensation was in order when the exclusive `Capture Your Heart’ EP (led by `Stepping Down The Glory Road’), found its way into the Top 50.
An appearance on Scottish TV (for Air an Oir) caused a considerable surge in interest for THE BIG WHEEL (1991) {*7}; the record chalking up a Top 5 position. Its success caught many people off guard, and it was a testament to the support of RUNRIG’s home fans, who’d registered `Hearthammer’ and `Flower In The West’ quite high in the UK charts; obviously the album once again sold negligibly south of the border. Soon after the record’s release, the band played an open air concert, fittingly, at Loch Lomond, before 45,000 fans.
Successive album releases such as AMAZING THINGS (1993) {*7} – a near No.1 featuring modest hits `Wonderful’ and `The Greatest Flame’ – the concert set TRANSMITTING LIVE (1994) {*6}, and MARA (1995) {*5} – featuring `Things That Are’ – consolidated the band’s standing as one of Scotland’s premier exports alongside whisky, Irn Bru and SIMPLE MINDS. While they at times tended to overdo the bombastic Braveheart shenanigans, RUNRIG garnered plaudits in their stoic efforts to keep the Gaelic language alive and kicking, often in the face of apathetic indifference or even outright hostility. The band’s success, however, seemed to be on hold as they searched for a replacement for the politicised DONNIE MUNRO, whom, after signing off with the heroic `Rhythm Of My Heart’ hit (first made famous by ROD STEWART), became a Labour Party candidate before taking a safer route as a solo artist.
In 1998, all was revealed when Canadian Bruce Guthro (a Donnie sound-alike!) filled his berth for comeback set, IN SEARCH OF ANGELS (1999) {*6}. Top 30 despite being issued on their own Ridge Records, the romantic heart of the Highlands was restored by way of singles, `The Message’, `Maymorning’ and `This Is Not A Love Song’ (none of them hits).
LIVE AT THE CELTIC CONNECTIONS 2000 {*6} – from a concert at the Royal Glasgow Hall, that January – kept up their momentum until the summer of 2001, when THE STAMPING GROUND {*5} was delivered to subdued press reviews and a brief Top 75 placing.
With Wishart duly departing, Falkirk-born accordionist/keyboardist Brian Hurren arrived in time for their PAUL MOUNSEY collaboration, PROTERRA (2003) {*6}. A combination of best bits from this set and “weel-kent” pieces from the past turned up on DAY OF DAYS: THE 30th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT (STIRLING CASTLE, SCOTLAND) (2004) {*6}, although a long wait would ensue before 2007’s EVERYTHING YOU SEE {*6}. As Caledonian as the shinty player pictured on the jacket, RUNRIG attempted to update their yearning contemporary folk-pop. To end a “guid” year, the sextet teamed up with the Tartan Army (Scottish fit’ba fans), on a Hampden remix of `Loch Lomond’, which, in aid of the charity Children In Need, hit the Top 10. 2008’s YEAR OF THE FLOOD: LIVE {*6} – named after a track from their previous set – looked to be their farewell gig.
But then on the back of another resounding saltire-waving PARTY ON THE MOOR: 40th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT (2014) {*5} – a 3xCD boxed set live at The Black Isle Showground, Muir Of Ord, Scottish Highlands on Saturday 10 August 2013 – RUNRIG were finally getting the fitting send-off they deserved on THE STORY (2016) {*7}. Turning back the clock to their halcyon days, the Hurren-produced Top 30 set stoked the burning hearts of their long-time fans; melding the Scots tongue and vernacular on the fist-pumping title track (should bring a wee tear to the eye), `Onar’, `The Place Where The Rivers Run’ and `Somewhere’ (featuring the voice of fan Laurel Clark, the astronaut commander of the doomed February 1, 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia, whose “Stamping Ground” CD was found in wreckage in a Texas field).
RUNRIG – will ye no cam’ back again.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD/GSM // rev-up MCS Feb2016

Share this Project

Leave a Comment